The Pirates Have Spent Big in the Draft, But Has it Paid Off?

Last week, during the round table discussion at Bucs Dugout, a question was raised about how each team’s draft results compare to their total spending. I’ve previously looked at the 2008 draft, noting the success stories from each round, and comparing that to what the Pirates got. Looking at the $/WAR for each team sounded interesting. It’s not a perfect method, but it would be one of the best ways to quantify draft scouting.

In theory, if a team had good scouts, they’d have a lower $/WAR than a team with poor scouting. If two teams had a total WAR of 1.0, and one team spent twice as much to get there, we’d conclude that the team spending more got there because of money, that the team spending less got there because of scouting, or both.

Before we get to the results, there are a few notes on the process. I included every player who was drafted and signed by a team, even if that player was traded and had their WAR with a different club. The focus here is on finding talent, regardless of where that talent ends up playing in the majors. I didn’t include players who didn’t sign with their drafting team. Some of the notables were Jason Kipnis (Padres), Aaron Crow (Nationals), and Louis Coleman (Nationals). I also didn’t count players with a negative WAR. There’s been some debate about this over at Bucs Dugout in other draft studies. The reason I didn’t include those players is because it penalizes teams for graduating players to the majors who didn’t do so well. The Rays and the Blue Jays haven’t graduated anyone to the majors from the 2008 draft yet. However, they’d be ranked more favorably than a team like the Astros, who would have ended up at -1.0 WAR thanks to the -1.9 from supplemental pick Jordan Lyles. A team that graduates bad players to the majors shouldn’t be penalized more than a team who graduates no players to the majors, so I removed the negative WAR players.

The Pirates rank 19th in $/WAR from the 2008 draft. They ranked 4th in overall spending that year, so the results are a bit disappointing. A lot of that has to do with Pedro Alvarez. At this point, the biggest impacts are still coming from the first round picks. The Giants spent the fifth most in the draft, and ranked fifth in $/WAR, mostly due to Buster Posey and his 12.1 WAR. Most of the teams at the top are teams who have found value in the middle rounds. The Tigers have seen the best results after drafting Alex Avila (7.5 WAR) in the 5th round, and Andy Dirks (2.8 WAR) in the 8th round.

Last week there was some debate about Baseball Reference WAR numbers versus FanGraphs WAR numbers. I used the Baseball Reference numbers out of convenience, since they’re all set up on one simple page for each team’s picks. The FanGraphs numbers would give the Pirates better results. Pedro Alvarez has a 3.8 fWAR, compared to an 0.8 rWAR. That would make some impact, but would only bring the Pirates up to 14th. The problem with this is that the fWAR for every other player would be different. Posey has a 12.1 rWAR, but a 13.7 fWAR. Alex Avila would go from 7.5 to 8.6. Andy Dirks would go from 2.8 to 2.0.

The Pirates did get some value from the draft by dealing Robbie Grossman for Wandy Rodriguez. It would be hard to calculate the value received here. For one, you’d have to take the same approach with every other team. Two, the deal wasn’t straight up, but was a 3-for-1 deal, so you’d have to determine how much of Wandy Rodriguez’s value should be attributed to Grossman. It would be better to avoid trying to quantify that, and just keep it in the back of your mind when looking at the results.

The results aren’t encouraging for the Pirates. By this measure above, they’re 19th in the majors. You could alter the numbers by giving more weight to the 2012 season from Alvarez, or by considering the return for Grossman. However, you’re not going to end up in the top 10, and you’re probably only ending up slightly above average. That’s not what the Pirates need. Small market teams need to build through the draft. The Pirates were doing the right thing by spending big in the draft, but the players they spent money on haven’t produced the results you need. The Tigers spent almost a third of what the Pirates spent, and have seen almost ten times the wins. The White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Nationals all spent around half of what the Pirates spent, and have seen about 6-8 times the wins.

With the amount they spent, the Pirates would have to have six wins to crack the top ten in $/WAR (an increase of 4.8 wins), and they would need 16.2 wins to crack the top five (an increase of 15 wins). Imagine how different the Pirates would be with an extra 5-15 wins from this draft. Imagine that while considering that most of the draft results for teams around the league have come over the last two years. Then think about how close the Pirates have been the last two years, and how those extra wins could have helped them. It’s too early to get any solid results from the 2009 draft, but if you look at the lack of potential impact players from that draft, you could probably expect the same results. These results don’t speak well for the draft scouting department.

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I think it would be interesting to see how each team is doing after maybe the 2nd round to see how teams are doing with overslot picks.

I thought I heard somewhere that the Red Sox actually had been spending a lot on the draft just like the Pirates had, but since the Red Sox usually pick in the 20’s and the Pirates were drafting #1 -4 overall, the difference in total money spent was really just based on signing that first pick. I’m too lazy to look this up though.


You are correct, the Red Sox were using the overslot approach before the Bucs started to do so. If anything, they were more aggressive with HS kids than any other team.


I agree with Leadoff. I think it’s a bit early to totally judge this draft. There are still some guys with potentially high upside. Justin Wilson obviously sticks out and maybe somebody like Jarek Cunningham (if he can get back to hitting for power and keep the walk rate high) could make this draft look a little better. The Pirates also drafted Matt Cutty out of junior college…although they didn’t sign him that year, they obviously saw the talent as I could see him developing into an impact player.

Tim makes a great point that the majority of the wins comes from the top of the draft, and I don’t think anybody can argue about taking Alvarez with the first pick. He was the best player available. Picking Scheppers with the second pick really hurt as they missed a chance to get good talent at the top of the draft.

Something else important to consider about all the draft money spent since 2008 is that a big chunk of the draft spending was made on first round talent. They spent big-time money on Alvarez, Tallion, and Cole (not counting Sanchez because they signed him at the recommended slot), and it appears right now they didn’t miss on any of these picks.

This was the first draft for NH and crew. There are obviously some growing pains to sort out to get all the scouts and talent evaluators on the same page. Right now it’s impossible to tell if any of the drafts since 2008 are better, but the minor league system is undoubtedly better than it was 5 years ago.

I seriously doubt the Pirates can expect to get every dollar back that they threw at the draft from 2008 to 2011. Considering how much more they spent than any other team, it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t going to be at the too of the $/WAR list for any of these drafts. The bottom line is that there is a ton of talent in the system that wasn’t there before this front office took over. Have all their over-slot draft picks worked out? Of course not. But do they have a lot of potential impact talent on the way to Pittsburgh? Absolutely.

I don’t understand why some of the media in Pittsburgh are jumping all over this FO about the talent in the organization. I personally don’t care how much money they spend on the draft as long as there is impact talent on the way to Pittsburgh. The Pirates have (correctly in my opinion) made a strong commitment to developing homegrown talent, and they’re doing a good job of it. It takes time to build a good system, and considering where we were 5 years ago, I’m pretty darn excited about the way things are heading now.

Lee Young

Btw, I agree with you that I don’t care about the money either. i just care that there is better talent in our system than at any time in our 20 year blight.
We just have to hope and pray it translates to better MLB talent.

Lee Young

Jayhawk…not signing Scheppers may npt hurt us as much as you think. We got Black with that comp pick. Going to be interesting to see who ends up with a better career.


Scheppers obviously didn’t look great this last season, and I forgot we got the comp pick when he didn’t sign. I actually saw Vic Black play in the Cape Cod League when he was still in college. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens with him next season after he dominated AA. He doesn’t seem to be having a great AFL season, but I’m not too concerned about that…

Lee Young

Tim…Personally, I can’t believe that you just wrote a negative article about the Pirates.

And here, I thought you were nothing more than a front office apologist.

Hoka Hey hey hey Foo



Since “WAR” is the determining stat for the drafts by most gurus and I have very little use for the “WAR” stat in that it is full of holes and the fact that the Pirates spent a considerable amount of money on Pitchers that take time to develop I think I will wait a little longer for the outcome of all of the Pirates drafts since 2007. IMO they are all up in the air, they could be good or bad, time will tell. The facts as of now are that they have not produced much for the major league team, War or no War stats. When determining a minor system one cannot look at one stat and make determinations that mean much.
The entire system and how much talent it has in it is what counts.
The upside talent in the Pirates system is at an all time high since 2007 and considerably more than most teams have, how they will do when the bright lights are turned on is anyones guess. Instead of having one or two players to look forward to making the majors, the Pirates are looking at 10 or 11. I know this column is about the drafts, but I always include non drafted players when I look at the farm, because this column implies that the farm is not very good, which is far from reality.


Please explain – ““WAR” stat in that it is full of holes”

Those would be what exactly?

Lee Young

Leadoff…while I agree that the farm system is in much better shape, Tim is only talking about the American Draft of 2008. Nothing more and nothing less.
However, outside of a few lucky orgs every year, one or two players is all you get from the draft historically. Anything else is usually in the form of complimentary players and or relievers, etc.

So yeah, we need to hit it big on those 1 or 2 players and hope and pray we get 2 or 3 stud pitchers from all of our talent hunts.

Coz pitching is gonna carry the day!


“These results don’t speak well for the draft scouting department.”

Maybe. Or maybe they don’t speak well of development. Or both. In any case, this is a bad situation. The linchpin of building a winner is looking very, very weak.


This is my thought as well, the Pirates have been drafting consensus talent getting many BA top 200 prospects each year and receiving good draft grades. I don’t think the draft is the issue (if there is one) its probably more a developmental thing.

Its a known fact that the fastball academy was a problem that has since been corrected. I wonder how much that hurt the HS pitchers from 2008 and 2009?

Its really hard to judge draft results in a vacuum. Every team fails on most of its picks. Tim is doing some nice work here, but a huge caveat to the approach of total WAR is the skewing caused by one breakout player. A team could have a good total WAR based on hitting on one guy and blowing the entire remaining draft.

I also agree that its pretty early to be judging these things. 2009 is a good example that looks bleak now but could very well produce a top notch closer and a MLB catcher to go with a few other useful players.

Lee Young

JK…if you look at most winning teams, they are built in a number of different ways. Heck, even the Cards, as good as they have been have whiffed on a number of number 1 draft picks in the 2000s.

We need some of our picks to come thru as stars. So far, Alvarez may, but we will need Cole, JT, Heredia, et al to fulfill their promise. At least TWO of them, imho.

AND, we need some luck…After 20 years, The Baseball Gods owe us some luck…BIGTIME!

Lee Young

Gotta wonder why Smith got promoted then?



Good stuff. Thanks for doing the leg work. Hopefully Alvarez will continue to mash and the Pirates will climb the charts. Where did you get the data for how much money each team spent on the draft?

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